Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 45–57 | Cite as

Straddling Three Worlds: Stress, Culture and Adaptation in South Asian Couples

  • Mina D. SinghEmail author
  • Raksha M. Bhayana
Original paper


Anecdotal evidences (e.g. the increase of South Asian marriage counseling services, newspaper articles, etc.) suggest that the divorce rate of South Asian individuals in Canada is increasing. Traditionally, Indian culture has and still to an extent, values collectivism. Alongside this, marriage appears to be evolving from being essentially the union of two families, to becoming the union of two individuals, with the gradual movement toward a nuclear family, dual earners and shared household duties, causing stress in couples. This marital stress may be compounded by other factors such as acculturation for new immigrants, role differentiation and expectations for both new immigrants and their Canadian born and acculturated children. The aim of this study is to understand the reasons for marital stress and distress and the strategies couples have used to overcome this distress. A qualitative case study methodology was used to explore and document the experiences of four married couples. The discussion of the findings are framed according to the concepts: Marriage, Acculturation process, Division of Roles and Communication within the marital relationship.


South Asian Marriage Roles Acculturation Stress 


  1. Abraham, M. (2000). Speaking the unspeakable: Marital violence among South Asian immigrants in the United States. Boston, MA: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Ahmad, S., & Reid, D. (2008). Relationship satisfaction among South Asian Canadians: The role of ‘Complementarity-equality’ and listening to understand. Interpersonal, 2, 131–150. Retrieved from DOAJ. Directory of Open Access Journals.Google Scholar
  3. Alegria, M. (2009). The challenge of acculturation measures: What are we missing? A commentary on Thomson & Hoffman-Goetz. Social Science and Medicine, 69(7), 996–998. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.07.006.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Berry, J. W. (2006). Acculturative stress. In Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping (pp. 287–298). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  5. Carroll, S. J., Hill, E. J., Yorgason, J. B., Larson, J. H., & Sandberg, J. G. (2013). Couple communication as a mediator between work-family conflict and marital satisfaction. Contemporary Family Therapy, 35, 530–545. doi: 10.1007/s10591-013-0237-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carter, B., & McGoldrick, M. (1999). Migration and the lifecycle. The expanded family life cycle: Individual, family and social perspectives (IE Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  7. Chibber, K. (2014). Single bound. NRI divorce: Blog, stories and articles on issues and challenges faced by South Asians and Non Resident Indians (NRIs). Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  8. Clement, R., & Noels, K. A. (1992). Towards a situated approach to ethnolinguistic identity: The effects of status on individuals and groups. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 11(4), 203–232. doi: 10.1177/0261927X92114002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a history: How love conquered marriage. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.Google Scholar
  10. Das, A. K., & Kemp, S. F. (1997). Between two worlds: Counseling South Asian Americans. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 25(1), 23–33. doi: 10.1002/j.2161-1912.1997.tb00313.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dasgupta, S. (1992). Conjugal roles and social network in Indian immigrant families: Bott revisited. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 23, 465–480. Retrieved from ProQuest Periodical Archive Online.Google Scholar
  12. Dosanjh, R., & Deo, S. (1994). Spousal abuse: Experiences of 15 Canadian South Asian women (p. 65). Vancouver, BC: India Mahila Association Report, The Feminist Research, Education, Development and Action (FREDA) Centre.Google Scholar
  13. Dummett, M. (2010, Dec 31). Not so happily ever after as Indian divorce rate doubles. BBC News. New Delhi, India. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  14. Furnham, A., & Shiekh, S. (1993). Gender, generational and social support correlates of mental health in Asian immigrants. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 39(1), 22–33. doi: 10.1002/jts.20324.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gadia-Sharma, V. (2012, March 14). It takes two to make a relationship.
  16. Garimella, N. K. (2008). A qualitative study examining the acculturation process of Asian Indian in the United States. Dissertation Abstract International. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (UMI 3311815).Google Scholar
  17. Gaynair, G. (2011, Nov 1). ICRW survey reveals contradictions in Indian men’s views on gender equality.
  18. Gupta, R. (2006). Acculturation and marital problems among South Asian immigrants. Clinical Gerontologist, 29(1), 71–77. doi: 10.1300/J018v29n01_06.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guru, S. (2009). Divorce: Obstacles and opportunities—South Asian women in Britain. The Sociological Review, 57(2), 285–305. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2009.01830.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Inman, A. G., Constantine, M. G., & Ladany, N. (1999). Cultural value conflict: An examination of Asian Indian women’s bicultural experience. In D. S. Sandhu (Ed.), Asian and Pacific Islander Americans: Issues and concerns for counseling and psychotherapy (pp. 31–41). New York: Nova Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Jaipal, R. (2004). Indian conceptions of mental health, healing, and the individual. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.Google Scholar
  22. Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, methods, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118(1), 3–34. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.3.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Karney, B. R., Story, L. B., & Bradbury, T. N. (2005). Marriages in context: Interactions between chronic and acute stress among newlyweds. In T. A. Revenson, K. Kayser, & G. Bodenmann (Eds.), Couples coping with stress: Emerging perspectives on dyadic coping (pp. 13–32). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lalonde, R. N., & Giguère, B. (2008). When might the two cultural worlds of second generation biculturals collide. Canadian Diversity, 6, 58–62. Retrieved on June 20, 2014.
  25. Lim, S. L., & Nakamoto, T. (2008). Genograms: Use of therapy with Asian families with diverse cultural heritages. Contemporary Family Therapy, 30, 199–219. doi: 10.1007/s10591-008-9070-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Maisuria, C. N. (2004). Growing up Bicultural: A qualitative study of acculturation and ethnic identity in second generation Indian Americans. West Hartford: University of Hartford.Google Scholar
  27. Messent, P., Saleh, H., & Solomon, X. (2005). Asian families “back home”: An unexplored resource. Contemporary Family Therapy, 27(3), 329–344. doi: 10.1007/s10591-005-6213-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moideen, Y. (1995). Family functioning and acculturation in Asian Indian families. (Doctoral dissertation, DePaul University). Retrieved June 17th, 2014. PsycINFO database.
  29. Mullatti, L. (1995). Families in India: Beliefs and realities. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 26(1), 11–25.
  30. Myrick, M., Hercik, J., & Patterson, P. (2014, June 17). Marriage and intermarriage among Asian Americans: A fact sheet.
  31. Neff, L. A., & Broady, E. F. (2011). Stress resilience in early marriage: Can practice make perfect? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(5), 1050–1067. doi: 10.1037/a0023809.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Netting, N. S. (2006). Two lives, one partner: Indo-Canadian youth between love and arranged marriages. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 37(1), 129–146.
  33. Netting, N. S. (2010). Marital ideoscapes in 21st-Century India: Creative combinations of love and responsibility. Journal of Family Issues, 31(6), 707–726. doi: 10.1177/0192513X09357555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Patel, A. (2014, May 31). Breaking taboos: When South Asian women choose divorce. HuffPost Living Canada. Retrieved on June 14, 2014.
  35. Randall, A. K., & Bodenmann, G. (2009). The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(2), 105–115. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2008.10.004.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Rathor, S. R. (2011). Importance of marriage for Asian Indian women in the U.S.: An exploratory study (Doctoral Dissertation). Rutgers University—Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. Retrieved on June 17th, 2014.
  37. Roopnarine, J. L., & Hossain, Z. (1992). Parent-child interactions in urban Indian families in New Delhi: Are they changing. In J. L. Roopnarine & D. B. Carter (Eds.), Parent-child socialization in diverse cultures (pp. 1–16). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  38. Saran, P. (1985). The Asian Indian experience in the United States. Massachusetts: Schenkman Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  39. Segal, U. A. (1998). The Asian-Indian Family. In C. H. Mindel, R. W. Habenstein, & R. Wright (Eds.), Ethnic families in America: Patterns and variations (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  40. Shukla, A. (1987). Decision making in single- and dual-career families in India. Journal of Marriage and Family, 49(3), 621–629. doi: 10.2307/352207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Suppal, P. G., Roopnarine, J. L., Buesig, T., & Bennett, A. (1996). Ideological beliefs about family practices: Contemporary perspectives among North Indian families. International Journal of Psychology, 31(1), 29–37. doi: 10.1080/002075996401197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Talbani, A., & Hasanali, P. (2000). Adolescent females between tradition and modernity: Gender role socialization in South Asian immigrant culture. Journal of Adolescence, 23(5), 615–627. doi: 10.1006/jado.2000.0348.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of NursingYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.CEO Bhayana Family FoundationTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations